Donnelly Receives Information from VA on Indiana VA Health Facilities
(Targeted News Service Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) WASHINGTON, July 30 -- The office of Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., issued the following news release:
Today, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly received information from the Veterans Administration regarding each of the five Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) that oversee health care facilities in Indiana. Indiana's VA health care facilities lie within VISNs 9, 10, 11, 12, and 15 (see the map here).
"Revelations over the past several months have made it clear that there is a systemic, bureaucratic mess in the VA's health care system," said Donnelly. "This mess will not be easy to clean up, but the audit gives us valuable information about the places and problems that need our most immediate attention. The VA audit identified a number of issues ranging from problems with scheduling policies and software to areas facing significant provider shortages. I was pleased today to hear that the VA has started to implement much-needed changes, and I am hopeful that Congress will significantly expand those reform efforts this week by passing bipartisan legislation to improve veterans' access to care. There is still a great deal of work to do, and I am committed to continuing to work with the VA and my colleagues in the Senate to ensure our veterans are receiving the quality, accessible health care they have earned."
In the briefings today, Donnelly received information on the issues at VA health facilities across the country, including hospitals and community-based outpatient clinics (CBOC) in Indiana. If audit teams expressed any concern regarding misconduct or improper procedures following their evaluation of a facility, the facility was red-flagged for further review. Flagged facilities in Indiana include the Roudebush Indianapolis VAMC, Richmond CBOC, and Adam Benjamin, Jr. Crown Point CBOC. Specifically, Sen. Donnelly learned:
* In Indianapolis, the union president reported that the "manipulation of [the] desired date was still a common practice as well as manipulation of provider schedules to benefit the provider, but decrease access for Veterans."
* In Richmond, there were "inconsistencies" understanding the proper use of the Electronic Wait List and the "recall reminder" process. The recall reminder is a process that reminds vets to call and schedule an appointment.
* In Crown Point, staff were "trained to use [the] first available [date] instead of [the] desired date for scheduling," which may lead to inaccurate reporting on facility wait times. Further, "one clerk was keeping a log book to assist with following up with patients."
All sites "red-flagged" were referred to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for further review. If OIG decides not to investigate a flagged facility, the case may be referred to a new accountability body within VA headquarters under the Secretary for potential further review. The VA informed Donnelly that they cannot provide information on status of the OIG reviews.
Moving forward, Donnelly was informed that the VA is collecting and monitoring scheduling data from all facilities in a new data mining effort to look for concerning patterns at any facility that may trigger reviews. The VA will also be contracting with an independent entity to do performance reviews of individual facilities that will certify to the VA Secretary that they are operating effectively. Additionally, the VA is training staff to re-emphasize understanding of proper scheduling processes and the correct use of scheduling tools. They told Donnelly that 13,000 staff have received this training thus far. The overview of the VA Audit is available here: http://www.va.gov/health/docs/VAAccessAuditFindingsReport.pdf.
Background on Donnelly's efforts to address any VA issues in Indiana:
Donnelly and fellow U.S. Senator from Indiana Dan Coats first sent a letter to then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 20 that outlined their concerns about the widespread reports of misconduct at several VA Medical Centers nationally.
In a letter sent to Acting Secretary Gibson by the Indiana senators on June 5, they wrote,
"We are troubled by new feedback and the latest news reports that have highlighted concerns about long wait times at VA facilities in Indiana. We have a responsibility to our Hoosier veterans and all Americans to be transparent about what has gone wrong...It is critical that we receive a complete and timely assessment of Indiana's VA facilities so that Congress and the VA can take decisive, well-informed action to fix any problems at their source."
Acting Secretary Gibson's responses to the June 5 letter, dated June 11, 2014 and received June 12, 2014, are available here (Donnelly) and here (Coats).
On July 16, 2014, Donnelly met with Robert McDonald about his nomination to be Secretary of the VA. Donnelly noted his frustration that despite roughly two months of requests, he was still waiting on information as to why three facilities in Indiana were "red-flagged" in the VA audit. Finally, the VA announced this week's congressional briefings on each of the VISNs on Thursday, July 24th. Yesterday, Donnelly voted to confirm McDonald along with 96 other senators from both parties.
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